Just left my advising appointment for next semester’s classes and even though I had my questions answered, I am starting to panic about thesis hours. Thesis hours! Six little credit hours that have managed to terrify me on a variety of levels:
1) When you start your hours, you have to pick a thread from the hundreds of pages you’ve written so far and commit yourself to it fully; to make it into a book-length manuscript. Commitment scares me.
2)Then you must request an advisor, a teacher who you know well and trust and who’s given you helpful feedback about your work. This isn’t stressful except for the fact that the person you want might be overbooked, overcommitted, or on sabbatical.
3)Now you have to finish writing that book. You’ve been wanting to write a book since you were a little kid. You can’t ever consider yourself a success until you’ve written it. Now you’re going to actually finish it, and it had better be good, because it will be no less than the summation of every writing dream you’ve ever had. No pressure, of course.
4)Now that it’s finished and it’s been approved by the committee, there is nothing else to do but try to get it published. But all you keep hearing is how impossible it is to get published. James Joyce’s Ulysses got rejected at first! James Joyce! And you think YOU’RE going to get published?
5)When you’ve produced something that is the summation of your writing dreams, and nobody wants it, your ego will be completely destroyed. Next thing you know, you will become that stock movie character: the English teacher with furrowed brow and tweed suiting who treats his most gifted students with supreme cruelty because he’s bitter that his novel never got published.
6)Once the manuscript is approved, and you’re off into the cold world of query letters and publishers, you have to prepare yourself to say goodbye to the warm womb that is your MFA program, where teachers are kind and supportive, and classmates go out after class to get drunk together and bolster each other’s egos.
At Columbia, we’re allowed seven years from the time we first start to finish these manuscripts. I can see why some people take that long: hanging onto the umbilical cord as long as possible.